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I’ve been pretty lax of late pointing y’all toward things I’ve been reading that I also think you should read, which was kind of the fault of a whole bunch of factors, but hey. Let’s change that up, and dedicate this whole newsletter entry to stuff I’ve been reading that I think you should read.
First up is Britni de la Cretaz and the return of Mic. Their first feature for the relaunched publication is on the fact we’re not used to seeing athletes as workers, even though they have to deal with management, even though they are not in control of capital within their own leagues, even though there are plenty of professional athletes out there who are making less money each year than some of the folks reading this right now. The topic is not only one that is close to me, but de la Cretaz spoke to me a bit about the subject, and I’m quoted in there a few times.
I’d suggest you read this regardless of whatever bit part I played in it, though, as, like I said, the topic is close to me — it’s stunning (and aggravating) how many people out there think minor-league players are rich, for instance, and that colors their entire view when someone tries to tell them that’s just not the case for 99 percent of them. We really should rethink the way we consider athletes, especially since strong unions in something as visible in pro sports can have a cascading effect on society at large.
A new issue of Global Sport Matters released earlier this week, and the whole thing is on rediscovering America’s pastime. “For baseball to survive as America’s pastime, the sport known for tradition and nostalgia will need to broaden its appeal across racial, cultural, and gender lines.” While I haven’t worked my way through the entire issue just yet, what I’ve gone through suggests I should read the whole thing. Lou Moore’s piece is titled “Major League Baseball had a chance to stop the drain of Black players from baseball. It didn’t.” It gets into the structural ways in which MLB failed in this very goal, ways that go beyond the reasons we always see thrown out there: “The game is too boring for Black kids. Or too expensive. They’d rather play football or basketball. They’d rather play football and basketball video games.” Moore says those are “valid” reasons, but that there is far more to it than that, and the far more to it is something MLB can be blamed for.
You had scouts refusing to go looking for Black players anymore, feeling that the “market inefficiency” period that had taken hold after the debut of Jackie Robinson was over. The dependency on drafting college players also played a role, especially since “a number of” HBCUs had begun dropping their baseball programs by the time the 1970s rolled around, thanks to a lack of resources. There is more far to it all than even this.
It’s not just Black players, of course, as Shakeia Taylor points out in her GSM piece on The Selig Rule. The feature wonders if MLB can fix its pipeline for managers of color. The short of it is that the Selig Rule hasn’t managed to fix any of what it purported to be fixing, and that managers of color are still hired less often and fired quicker than their white counterparts:
Still, the sport’s failure to be more inclusive may be felt most acutely among coaches of Color. Since Preston Gomez was hired by the San Diego Padres in 1969, just 35 men of Color have managed an MLB team – ever. And at the end of the 2021 regular season, only two managers – Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros – were Black. Four other managers of Color made up a total of six in MLB.
Today, many coaches of Color feel that they have been systematically excluded from leadership and that they do not have an equal place in the sport. Those interviewed for this article were hesitant to speak on the record, fearing that doing so could ruin their chances of getting or keeping a job.
One former major league player who asked not to be identified summed up the frustrations of many: “Major League Baseball is the last bastion for White dominance in American sport. We don’t just want a seat at the table. We want a voice.”
Any time is a good time to publish and read this kind of analysis, but when Baker’s and Roberts’ teams are currently in the postseason? That’s even more of a reason to read up on the structural issues that limit non-white managers in MLB — structural issues that have Taylor’s interview subjects speaking anonymously because things are already hard enough for them, and don’t need to become more difficult.
David Dennis Jr., over at The Undefeated, wrote about something that has been bothering me, and did so with much more clarity and insight than I’ve been able to muster in my own head on the subject. A number of vaccinated NBA players have spoken about their unvaccinated teammates to the press by saying things that basically boil down to “It’s a personal decision.” Which, it’s not! It’s a public health issue, which means it’s a decision that impacts everyone around them. It’s also not about “privacy,” as the Nets’ Kyrie Irving put it, and for the same reason.
Dennis Jr. went well beyond where my mind went on the matter, and focused on how LeBron James is incorrect to say that vaccination status and COVID-19 is neither a political nor social justice issue, and therefore he’s going to keep his personal thoughts on the matter private and not attempt to pressure any unvaccinated players. Fighting COVID, to Dennis Jr., is also about fighting structural racism: simply look at how the coronavirus has devastated Black communities in comparison to white communities, for proof of this. He goes as far as to say that “perpetuating the possible spread of an epidemic ravaging Black folks” goes against everything the “Irvings of the world” have said about protecting Black Americans.
As Dennis Jr. points out, 95 percent of the NBA is already vaccinated, but a lot of attention is being given to the five percent that are not, are speaking about it, and are being let off the hook by their teammates. This is a good time to mention that the WNBA got to 99 percent without a mandate, and how they got their was explained by Emma Baccellieri in a piece for Sports Illustrated late last month.
The National Women’s Soccer League has been in the news constantly of late. First, it was simply because the NWSLPA is fighting for their first-ever collective bargaining agreement, and the focus was on that happening, and the reasons why it should happen — check out a recent episode of the Burn it All Down podcast (with a handy transcription available, perfect for a non-podcast-person like myself) where they spoke with NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke for more on that angle. I was thrilled to see that the NWSLPA was finally demanding a CBA, since, in a conversation a couple of years back with the previous executive director, Yael Averbuch West, I was told that, at the time, the union wasn’t quite ready to make that move yet, for a number of reasons.
Since then, though, there have been further revelations about the need for a CBA, and dramatic, structural changes within the NWSL: The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reported on a “prominent coach” accused of “sexual coercion” — and the fact the league had been fully aware of the accusations for a considerable amount of time, while doing nothing about it at all until the reporting began in earnest. Obviously, this is all terrible, but it’s good to see that the union and the NWSL’s players, past and present, finally feel like they should be speaking up against the actions — or inactions, in this case — of the NWSL. I mentioned a conversation with the previous executive director in the past, and there was a sense during that talk that the players were afraid of making too many waves, and causing the league to fail in the process, so they were going to let certain things — like the push for a CBA — go until it felt safer to act otherwise. And while I disagreed with the sentiment even at the time, I understood where Averbuch West and the players were coming from, considering the history of folding women’s sports leagues that many of them had themselves lived through.
A broken, abusive, exploitative league isn’t necessarily better than no league at all, however, so again, it’s good to see that the NWSLPA has decided that it’s time to use their collective power to shape the league into one they’re proud to be a part of, instead of just settling for one that exists.
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